angle-left Overcoming Challenges

Overcoming Challenges

In spite of a MS diagnosis, Emily Lappegaard is living her dream with horses at the Zoetis VRH World.

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By Andrea Caudill, Ranch Horse Journal editor

Golden H Mister T is a stout, handsome palomino gelding, and he fondly nudges his owner, Emily Lappegaard as they stand together. She responds by giving him a hug and a fond kiss. 

Emily grew up loving horses in a non-horsey family, and spent time volunteering at a therapeutic riding center.

“I saw the power of the horse, coming into their life and making a difference,” she says. “I saw a girl who couldn’t walk or talk – completely non-verbal – say her first words when she was on a horse. So it’s pretty neat. 

“It connected with me, and I connected with the horse very strongly,” she continues. “It was always a part of my life through high school and college. As an adult, I was committed to have horses in my life going forward.”

It was a dream that her husband, Nate, respected. A few years ago, they bought land in Monument, Colorado, with enough room for horses. 

“Then I got diagnosed with MS,” Emily says. “It really moved our timeline forward and forced us to assess what we were committed to in life, and how we wanted our lives to go, not knowing what my future was going to look like. It was important that I have a shot at horses like I wanted to.”

The sobering diagnosis and fortuitous help from their neighbor Dave Currin, who helped launch the National Versatility Ranch Horse Association, pushed them into VRH events. 

Emily found “T” through trainers Jay and Gina Henson. The 10-year-old gelding, bred by Richard and Connie Kaiser of McClelland, Iowa, is by Zippos Jackson and out of the Tip By Chance mare Tips Joyous Jet.

“I started going after it,” Emily says. “(The VRH World) is actually less than a year from when I did my first show.”

In fact – she has shown at less than a dozen shows, but the newness doesn’t seem to scare her. Her enthusiasm and positivity are almost contagious as she prepares to show in ranch riding and trail. She will show in both AQHA and NRSHA classes at the Zoetis AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships, but her focus is not so much on winning as it is on challenging herself.

“One of the reasons I love horses so much is it doesn’t feel like there’s any limit to where it can take me,” she says. “I think the degree of personal transformation that horsemanship requires is really inspiring to me. To look at who I have to become, and areas of my life that really have nothing to do with riding – I have to look at to become a better rider. For example, right now T and I are working on really slowing things down, just rein it all back in and be super chill and calm. That’s kind of a theme in my life – I like to ‘Go! Go! Go!’ So I kind of am looking at my life and thinking, ‘No kidding, look at what my horse is teaching me.’ So personal transformation and really being able to look at life and take it on in context of riding is really important.”

On a sunny June afternoon at the VRH World, she and Nate were sitting at their stalls, enjoying each other’s company, those of their barnmates and their sleepy golden gelding, and looking forward to the week’s adventures.

“Just being here and connecting with people, it’s just such a cool experience to be around a community of people who are committed to the sport, and committed to the horses, and to connect is really fun,” Emily says. “I’m excited to experience an environment like this, and to test myself and my horse and see how well we can perform on a stage as big as this is. Just see if we can do better than we did last time, and progress as individuals.”

A lot has changed for the Lappegaards in the past year, but they are working to keep Emily’s health up while they also follow her heart.

She strokes T’s neck fondly.

“I think it’s important to do what you love in life and not let circumstances stop you,” Emily says.  

News and information is a service of the American Quarter Horse Association. For more news and information, follow @AQHAnews on Twitter and visit www.aqha.com/news.